At this year’s Summer School (2012) I stayed overnight with Shihan Gwynne Jones. He gave me a book to read, Aikido Memoirs by Alan Ruddock. It is only 65 pages; many of them photos of O Sensei. (Gwynne was familiar with the author and several of the foreign students training in Ueshiba’s dojo at that time.)
Alan Ruddock left his native Ireland to spend 3 years learning from the source of Aikido. He was mainly instructed by O-Sensei’s students and was aware that the founder’s movement was different. When Ruddock returned from Japan, he opened his own Aikido club. Many years later, he had a call from one of his friends that had trained with him in Japan, Henry Kono. Henry stopped off at Hawaii on his return to the States. He started drawing the Yin and Yang symbol in the sand and it suddenly dawned on him what O-Sensei meant.
Our awareness should not be on yin or yang but on the point at which they meet. “When Henry divulged this amazingly simple truth to me it was actually extremely, blindingly obvious! Obvious of course to someone who had spent almost 30 years going around in circles, looking for the ‘secret’ and had not found it!”
Alan Ruddock studied at the Hombo dojo when Ushiba was in his later years and his Aikido had become very soft. Some would argue that it was “old man’s Aikido.” ( I prefer to think that it was the result of a lifetimes study and as such, does it not make sense to try and emulated this at an early stage?) The following is the relevant extract from the book plus my comments and assessment:-
“In one of the films of O-Sensei taken in the old Hombo dojo, it is possible to clearly observe the difference between his movements and those of the 3 uchideshi acting as his ukes during the demonstration. This film is unique in that the uchideshi perform exactly the same moves on each other as has just been performed on them. Those who observe precisely what that difference in execution actually is, have taken the first step towards a different kind of Aikido. The uchideshi are absolutely part of O-Sensei’s movements as he throws them, or rather HE is absolutely part of their motion. When they throw each other, their ‘correction’ and redirection of each other’s movement is blatantly obvious. There is no initial redirection of movement by O-Sensei, just perfect blending.
Explaining the application of this very simple truth is not easy. Remembering that each one of us has a different view of the world, no matter how similar we might appear. I will also try to give some other views of the same simply reality.
Imagine you are holding the handle of a door and turn it to enter the room. Someone else may also hold the handle on the other side of the door and could move in time with your attempt to enter. Because it is a door you cannot see them, so you are completely unaware of their presence. As you move to enter, you are completely surprised at the door apparently moving of its own accord, appearing to open for you, causing you to over extend. This is understandable. many of us have had such an experience. Relating this to Aikido we can see that if we move with the attacker, giving them no sensory clues as to our movement, they have no ‘feedback’ and continue their initial intent. Their initial intent leads them to a position of no return.”
I have to a degree discovered this for myself and introduce the principle in action, particularly on a beginners first night. I simply explain that Aikido allows us different options for self defence. An imminent threat may not be real attack so I invite them to invade my space in a threatening manner. I step to their side and slightly behind them, placing the lightest hand just above their elbow with my other hand resting gently on their opposite shoulder. The move is non threatening although they are placed in a position of danger. As they respond by trying to see and face me, I move with them. There is no tension and nothing to fight against. They place themselves in a position of no return and wonder how they arrived with their back on the mat. They need have no previous experience of break falling because I can guide their final descent for a soft landing. My experienced students still find this to be an uncanny feeling. But returning to Alan Ruddock’s narrative:-
“The key point in all of this is where we put out attention. If we think of a door being opened just in front of us, we know we cannot reshape or bend it, so we just feel IT and move appropriately and get out of the way. If someone grabs our wrist, we may think we move appropriately but usually our intention is on the person not the point of contact.
Speaking in terms of yin and yang, the attacker is YANG and we see ourselves as YIN. Our natural desire is to manipulate the situation so that we can turn yang into yin and become yang ourselves, thus disposing of the attacker.
THIS IS THE FUNDAMENTAL MISTAKE WE ALL MAKE
We should merely attend to the contact point, allowing absolutely no change of sensation at that point. We do not desire to ‘be’ YIN or YANG, in actual fact we move through both but our attention must be always on the point of contact, keeping the pressure constant. Thus once the attacker has over extended we find ourselves in the position of YANG while our attacker has become YIN Our attention should remain throughout on the contact point, keeping this sensation just as it was initially. So the attacker has no physical feedback and finds themselves as YIN while their victim has become YANG. Thus the attacker finds themselves falling, not realising how exactly this has come to pass.
This is not a fabulous theory to be discussed at length over a glass of beer, then quietly forgotten about as we happily smash our uke into the mat. The everyday events which we all accept, such as opening a door just as someone else opens it from the other side, or reaching for something which is moved just as we extend to grasp it, or sitting into a chair which is moved just as we are going to sit in it, are forgotten as we try to figure out what we will DO to our attacker.”
An interview with O-Sensei
(My comment – I would have found his teaching almost incomprehensible. He would often talk about the Gods without any apparent relevance to the art of Aikido. In the following, he answers questions directly.)
“It only seems mystical…. In Aikido we utilise the power of the opponent completely……In Aikido there is absolutely no attack…..We adhere to the principle of absolute non resistance, that is to say we do not oppose the attacker. Thus there is no opponent in Aikido.”
The interviewer asks “Does that mean ato no sen? ( acting after the attack has commenced)
O-Sensei replies “Absolutely not…If I were to try and verbalise it, I would say that you control your opponent without trying to control him…. There isn’t any question of winning or losing to an opponent.”
The he is asked how many techniques are there in Aikido, he replies, “There are about 3,000 basic techniques and each one has 16 variations…so there are many thousand. Depending on the situation, you create new ones.”
This last statement is a prime example of O-Sensei’s ability to wonderfully confuse and ‘redirect’ the attention of anyone who might have actually begun to understand the magical information he has just revealed prior to this! (I am reminded of the late Paul Mitton, who claimed that Ueshiba was the original aiki spin doctor.)
We have to be aware of the fact that there is only ONE ‘technique’ and that is the focus of the mind on the contact point between YIN and YANG. There are ‘exercises’ which we may play with in order to sense or become aware of this constantly changing point. However, once we comprehend what we must ‘do’ and what we must ‘not do’ any ‘exercise’ is pointless. Practice sessions are just that….constant awareness of the ever changing contact point between YIN and YANG
O-Sensei also spoke of uke as a devil and tori as an angel. If uke attacks with devilish intent, then tori must blend absolutely with angelic acceptance. This has to be done with great care, for if uke attacks very swiftly and tori blends appropriately at approximately the same speed, the result may be ‘magical’ for tori but may also be unexpectedly dynamic for uke.
People who train in Aikido may think this is pretty useless from a practical point of view but it could never be more useless than very much of the formalises training we see in many dojos today, where students are mechanically trained to respond with emphasis on the ‘correct’ form. Where the notion of angel blending precisely with devil is transformed into ‘clever devil’ using moves to smash ‘bad devil’. Thus the art of Aikido is transformed into BASH ki do. Remember, what the form looks like is unrelated either to its efficiency or its usefulness.
(My note:- Aikido being non competitive, does require a learning structure so that people can achieve grades. Most of us need this to feel that we are making progress. When I perform and repeat a demonstration of an Aikido technique or one of my own Shinjido variation, my students often say “you didn’t do it the same that time.” I can applaud their observation and appreciate that the subtle differences may make learning more difficult but it does concur with Alan Ruddock’s approach.)
“Throws which use effort or force to propel people upwards before falling may look exciting but they defy the law of gravity. When one is thrown, one goes down, not up, even temporary. Also if someone attacks from a certain direction, they fall in that direction, either on their back or on their front.”
(My note:- this is in agreement with Shinjido’s GAP, Gravity Assisted Power principle and attacking from various direction against the Weak Line)
“One thing that I particularly noticed on my return to Europe was exactly this direction of falling, which did not seem to coincide with what I had observed when watching O-Sensei. When someone genuinely ‘throws’ you in the direction you are travelling and you fall on your back, it is very different from being hurled back to where you have come from. It is just like slipping on a sheet of ice, when your feet go forward and your head comes down, wham! Again, watching, sensing and maintaining the contact point between YIN and YANG is vitally important, for if one crosses over the line as ‘you’ become YANG it can have serious consequences for your partner’s fall. They may land violently on their head.
Alan Ruddock goes on to mention polarity Therapy……From our perspective, the key point about Polarity Therapy is in its description of the movement of energy. There is Positive (Yang) and Negative (Yin energy but the most interesting is the noting of a Neutral point between these two. So in the reasoning of Polarity Therapy the movement of energy flows from Positive through Neutral to Negative.
It is of course self evident that there must be a neutral point between positive and negative movements of energy. in the swinging of a pendulum for example, the movement actually stops before it can swing back in the opposite direction. The actual statement of this fact and the definition of a neutral ZONE may help us to remain at this point when we engage i our Aikido movements.
There is always a continuous natural play in the movement of energy
In this description of the movement of forces in Polarity Therapy, I feel that the actual delineation of a NEUTRAL point may help us in our attempt to sense where our attention must BE.
Our ‘position’ during a ‘technique’ is constantly changing. By that, I mean that initially we may be Negative while moving in response to a Positive attack but we merely watch, sense and feel the NEUTRAL point. We know that at some point the Positive will change to Negative and that ‘our side’ will change to Positive. But we merely move, watch and feel the NEUTRAL POINT. As the ‘technique’ unfolds we are now in the Positive zone and the attacker is in the Negative zone. Most importantly we merely continue moving, watching and feeling the NEUTRAL point as we observe the conclusion of the movement.
This description of the sequence of events within the movement of Aikido ‘technique’ may seem laborious but we must remember it can take place in a split second. If we ‘do’ the technique ourselves we are no longer at the NEUTRAL point and so our efforts may be counteracted if we are not faster or more powerful than the attacker.
To practice like this is initially very difficult but remember this is AI KI DO in its ultimate form. No matter what we do in life, this is how things ARE on this planet. Whether you drink a glass of wine (you don’t smash your glass into your teeth when you lift it, or drop it back onto the table top – everything is done just perfectly), or sit on a chair (you sit on, not near the seat, gently and so on…) This is life in the human world.
However, once an attacker appears on the scene the rule seem to automatically change. Oppose force with force and manipulate the other individual. This may be ‘OK’ if you happen to be bigger, stronger, faster and fitter than them but otherwise you have problems. This approach to training will lead to aches, pains and ultimate injury to you and your partner. These knocks, bangs etc. are often referred to lovingly as proof that you are actually ‘doing’ the real McCoy. Actually they are clear evidence that AI Ki is a notion that you have failed to grasp the profound meaning of. This love of Bash Ki Do could also place you in great danger if you were ever in a situation where REAL AI KI was called for.”
I miss out the following chapter and go directly to:-
The Softness of Water
“The question of the most appropriate movements which our bodies can make is the subject of this chapter. I will look at the ‘normal’ view of ‘best practice’ and compare this with another viewpoint which I believe fits in very clearly with the essential nature of AI Ki DO and allow us to stay in the NOW.
In general practice people are encouraged to put a great deal of emphasis on taisabaki or body movement and also on having a strong posture. The basic theory is to move your body to a safe location relative to the attack and then from this position, using ‘good’ posture you will have a solid structure to enable you to execute the technique.
These postures are generally stationary as one performs the relevant move. Indeed this solidity of posture actually is seen to be essential to the move being performed. The problem with this viewpoint is that it leads to the notion that we may then ‘power’ our opponent into the mat. We are training to throw our opponent from a strong position, not training to move so that the move occurs naturally. Once this line is crossed, I believe that the principle of AI Ki has also been left behind.
O-Sensei’s statement that ‘The mind of man is expressed through the hands’ and that ‘The movement of the universe is expressed through our hips/legs’ allows us to view the movement within a technique in a different manner.
The obvious advantage of having a solid posture is of course that we are able to execute our movement with the required amount of ‘force’ in order to complete the technique. The obvious disadvantage is that we are located in one spot while doing so. If there is more than one assailant, then this is not so good, no matter how brief this position is. There is also the minor consideration that if our ‘force’ is not sufficient to complete the move, we are fixed to the spot and the attack has not been resolved.”
My note:- I use the term effortless power, which is achieved through moving the body mass. Once the body comes to rest, you can only rely upon muscular force to achieve a result. If you have a weight or strength disadvantage, you are asking for trouble.
“Another way to look at this is to imagine you are standing in the roadway on a hill. A vehicle starts rolling towards you. If it is very close, you will extend your hands to exactly locate its position and to claim ‘your space’. You will not be thinking of moving it out of the way, or stopping it. On the contrary you will seek to move YOURSELF to a safe position. you will hopefully do this very quickly without any use of formalised taisabaki or posture.
Similarly, in dealing with an attacker, one moves naturally to a safe location (preferably one that gives all round vision to locate other possible attackers.) You do not then fix this position while you perform the technique but preferably you allow the move to unfold. Your whole body is in motion as the move unfolds, with your hands merely in contact with the attacker, while your body moves into the space that opens. There is contact with the attacker (although in many cases there is no actual contact) , but no force is used. The movements of your feet should be absolutely natural. your hands simply help you to know what is occurring. They do not try to manipulate the outcome.
The question of what one should do with the feet, or in other words what posture should be used, intrigued me during my time at the Hombu dojo. There was absolutely no instruction relating to posture. In my Karate days, posture was regarded as very important. I spent many occasions looking at O-Sensei’s feet to try and discover what exactly was being done. One difficulty was the fact that a hakama often hides exactly what the feet and legs in particular are doing. However, as a result of constant observation, I finally came to the conclusion that he was actually moving absolutely naturally.
Allowing the movement of our feet to become natural, allows our movement to be much more fluent. The movement of our hands pose a different problem. We do not want our hands to MANIPULATE the attacker, just to sense where they are at any given moment. We want to know where it is. We are not seeking to shift it, merely to be able to move to a safe location. We move appropriately to allow the technique to unfold. Just like moving our body out of the way of the rolling vehicle, allowing it to pass.
our vision, our perception, or how we see the world is also an important factor. Where should we look? How should we look?. WE really want to SEE not look! Looking implies a focus of attention. SEEING is OBSERVING what there is to SEE without any comment or external focus of attention. LOOKING is in fact being attached. SEEING is non attachment. If we are looking at one group of people, we are focusing on them and may miss something else that is happening within the group. If on the other hand we allow our attention to merely SEE, we will observe whatever is going on but will not be attached to it.
Returning to the hands, we are able to take the raising and lowering of a sword, lifting and lowering it, as very clear example of what our hands should do. This is straight up, vertical and straight down, vertical.. However, once we move our hips or body, while continuing this vertical lifting and lowering of the sword, we find that to some other person’s perception, we are creating continuous movement, with no pauses and if we return to our hips, to their original position, we have actually created a continuous moving circular action. To our perception we are merely raising and lowering the sword.
This is precisely what the hands are doing whilst performing any technique. They raise and lower the imaginary sword. The movements APPEAR circular to any observer but to you, they are just raising and lowering the sword. There is absolutely no STOP point in this motion. No point from which you return, like the angular point or corner of a triangle. The motion is absolutely continuous.
This raises yet another point regarding the ‘normal’ perception of Aikido. While we can see in the movement just described, there are NO circles being performed by the hands, to others the movement is obviously circular. Similarly our attention is always focussed ahead. Our desire is always to move in a straight line. In turning to let the attacker pass or to avoid him, our attention is always to go forward. To an observer, the fact that we face a different direction means that we are moving in a circle, whereas OUR attention is STRAIGHT ahead, merely OBSERVING, waiting for the space to open up so we may enter.
It should be noted that all, of the basic aikido techniques evolve from these simple movements. All of them may be executed with this very simple raising and lowering of the hands. In all of them the movement of the hips and feet are the key to unlocking the movements. Controlled movement of the hands completely free movement of the hips/feet, with the attention on moving straight ahead.
When implementing these ideas we must realise that there must be absolutely no interference or restructuring of our uke. We have to blend totally with what is happening. these ideas may not be easy to appreciate or indeed to accept for someone who has spent a great deal of time learning Aikido in the normal manner. However, I would ask those who are genuinely interested in trying to discover or get a little closer to the essentials of O-Sensei’s art, to spend some time giving them serious consideration. This subject is generally one that no one is prepared to discuss or treat in a logical fashion. O-Sensei was a most remarkable man but he was a human being. No matter how remarkable things may appear to us there is often an explanation which allows us to view from a different perspective.
Some years ago, I had a wonderful book scientifically examining many things which initially appear amazing but are actually capable of quite straight forward explanation. There was a chapter devoted to Aikido. It explained Koichi Tohei’s famous ‘unbendable arm; lying horizontally between two chairs while someone sits on your body; sitting on the mat while someone tries to push you over and so on. All of these things seem extraordinary but were simply and logically explained. There was even the case of a seventy year old woman in the USA who could stand on one leg while holding a broom stick out horizontally in front of her and could not be pushed over. This was also logically explained. Those who have seen similar things demonstrated and practiced in Aikido, should understand that such ‘feats’ are absolutely natural and indeed not extraordinary. I mention this book for two reasons. Firstly it helps us put these things we may have seen as demonstrations of ‘ki power’ into perspective. It may also help us to know what at first might seem to be completely impracticable, may in actual fact be very apposite and powerful.
If we have learned to execute techniques from a strong fixed posture using our arms to manipulate our opponent we must clearly understand that we are not performing Aikido as the originator did. The ideas outlined in this chapter hopefully will allow a more open view. I hope that some practitioners are able to step outside the box of what they regard ‘correct’ form to be and are able to grasp the profound truth of the reality of true AI Ki an absolute blending with the motion of the attacker.
This is truly a monumental leap but for one who has the courage and determination to make such a move, it will prove to be hugely rewarding. It is always important to respect and to honour your teacher. By the same token, they should be able to respect the fact that you, on your journey towards the truth, may have to sail into uncharted waters. The explorer who is brave enough to venture the unknown with an open heart may discover something very profound, yet so simple!”
Much of what Alan Ruddock has written strikes a chord with me. Apart from having received excellent instruction from my friend and Aikido Sensei – Gwynne Jones, I have spent much time exploring what is right for me. This starts with my small man’s perspective. Weight and strength will count less if you can avoid contact and move in to the opponent, in a position where you cannot be grabbed or struck. This simply concept dictates absolute blending and continuous movement from which the technique simply appears. My GAP principle – Gravity Assisted Power is perfectly natural and in complete agreement with Ruddock’s perception that the opponent’ s body is not lifted, it is allowed to fall.
Some of his ideas I shall need to experiment with. I am not sure about the lifting and lowering of the sword for instance. He also implies that the hands do nothing. This immediately makes techniques such as shihonage and nikkyo obsolete.( Kotegaeshi can remain in my bag as I largely execute this without grasping.) Certainly I shall look at old films of O-Sensei in a different light. My previous belief was that the uke does all the work and knows his place. The Japanese traditionally have great respect for their elderly teachers. Poor etiquette in a Japanese dojo could lead to serious injury!
I have taken the trouble to copy much of this verbatim, mainly for the benefit of my own students as it is virtually in agreement with my own ideas, although expressed differently.